From Diana J. Choyce
Mar 27 - Apr 02, 2000
Interactive web surfing innovation may have hit a new high. We are all
used to filling out forms, playing games, and using personalized news. And that has made
the internet a friendlier and more personal experience. But would we be able to get used
to scratch and sniff websites? DigiScents Inc. is gambling that we will. And very soon web
site developers will be clamoring for the use of our noses with this new technology.
Digiscents, a privately held corporation, is located in Oakland, California. It was
founded in February 1999 by Dexster Smith and Joel Lloyd Bellenson. Smith and Bellenson
also founded Pangea Systems Inc, a leading biotechnology company.
The Oakland-based start-up announced this past October that it has
developed an interactive technology designed to add scents to multimedia CD-ROMs and Web
sites. This new technology will allow content developers the ability to add customized
scents to enhance the user experience, motivate sales, and more. For instance, a shopper
visiting a scent-enhanced cosmetics Web site could sample the newest perfumes; a travel
Web site could add the scent of the ocean to promote a Caribbean vacationpackage; a game
player could solve an interactive murder mystery using scented clues. DigiScents'
technology includes both software and hardware components. In general, though, DigiScents
has developed a digital index of scents that the company will license to developers to
integrate into games, Web sites, ads, movies, and music. The scents will be emitted from a
computer peripheral device called the iSmell. The release of the scents is determined by
ScentStream, software that drives the operation of the iSmell in coordination with a Web
site or other media. "The sense of smell is closely tied to memory and emotion,
making scent a powerful way to reinforce ideas," says Joel Bellenson, chief executive
officer of DigiScents. "If a picture is worth a thousand words, a scent is worth a
The whole idea has been met with more than a bit of skepticism, but the
company insists they are for real. "My response to that was "This is funny, but
it's definitely not a joke,'" laughs Dexster Smith, who co-founded Digiscents last
January with his longtime partner Joel Lloyd Bellenson. "This is something that Joel
and I are used to. The last company we started, Pangea Systems, did genetic analysis and
databases for drug discovery, and people called that "Star Trek'" medicine. We
do things that stretch the public imagination." Digiscents is already talking to
developers, primarily in the video game industry, about creating iSmell-enhanced products.
Also in October Digiscents signed a distribution agreement with RealNetworks. They are the
recognized leader in streaming media delivery for the Internet, and will distribute
DigiScents' ScentStream software with its RealPlayer G2, using the auto-update feature,
bringing the world of scent to the more than 80 million registered users. "DigiScents
is adding a new dimension to the Internet,'' said Pete Zaballos, director Systems
Marketing, RealNetworks, Inc. "This is yet another example of our commitment to
providing RealPlayer users with the most innovative, compelling streaming media
experience.'' Other consumers, Smith of Digiscents says, have shown excitement about
designing their own scents -- though, he adds, "one of the things that the response
has told me is that we are going to have a very receptive audience in the areas of
adolescent humor and extreme entertainment."
A visit to the company website at www.digiscents.com, provided more
information on this interesting new internet twist. They describe iSmell as "a
personal scent synthesizer, a computer peripheral device. The iSmell attaches to the
serial or USB port of your personal computer and plugs into a standard electrical outlet.
The iSmell emits naturally based vapors into the user's personal space. The device is
triggered either by user activation (like a mouse click) or a timed response (as is the
case with a DVD ScentTrack "). And it, of course, has an on/off switch in case one's
nose gets overwhelmed. They currently can produce 2 to the 128th power smells with the
iSmell Personal Scent Synthesizer. Much like Pantone has created a digital palette for
mixing and printing colors, DigiScents is creating a scent palette for designing scents
and incorporating them into media presentations. The software will instruct the iSmell the
device to emit one or a combination of over 100 basic scents. They are also in the process
of producing a website called Snortal. "The Snortal , the Internet's first a
scent-enabled Web portal, is a web site for all
Things that smell. Visiting the Snortal, you will be able to send
"ScentMail ", design and register your own ScentObjects, and create and share
ScentTracks for your favorite movies and music. Look out for the DigiScents Snortal at
www.snortal.com in the summer of 2000".
In February of this year Digiscents raised US$10 million in cash
financing from Hong Kong-listed Pacific Century CyberWorks Limited. PCCW is the technology
flagship of the Pacific Century Group. PCCW's investment represents a 12.5 percent stake
in DigiScents, the most substantial financial investment in Digital Scent Technology to
date. "This deal opens the exciting opportunity to introduce DigiScents Digital Scent
Technology to the Asia-Pacific market via PCCW's enormous Internet network," states
Joel Bellenson, CEO of DigiScents. Bellenson adds: "Just as sound has become an
integral part of the online entertainment experience and soundtracks have become a
necessity in movies, we believe that over time, digital scent will also become ubiquitous
in most forms of media. The same way you can click on and hear a song over the Internet,
now you can click on an image and smell it with a computer speaker-sized device. The
applications in advertising and education are huge."
Even while writing this article I am still wondering if it is for real.
But given the media attention and the amount of financing involved, it appears to be true.
I'm not sure one needs to "sniff" their way across the web. But any new frontier
has it share of strange ideas that made a lot of money. You never know, this may be one to
invest a little pocket money in, just in case.